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Reader Comment: Travel Cameras, Small Kit

Dr. S writes:

Taking a cue from your images at Zeiss at least 1 travel camera was the Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis. Did you take any others? Nice to have a small kit? I know it will be for me.

DIGLLOYD: I took the Sony A7R II with the Zeiss Batis 25/2 and Zeiss Batis 85/1.4. I did not want to haul along (on an airline at least) a Nikon D810 and a Zacuto loupe and Otii. Uggh. Of course, in my SUV in the mountains, those “lugging” factors are less of an issue, at least until I start to fill my pack for the day’s hike, whereupon they put forward their logic in a physical way.

Ming Thein came to the same conclusion*. This then is why Nikon and Canon are in deep doodoo unless they respond soon with a sensible answer to the mirrorless juggernaut.

The “lugging it” reality is one I’ve expounded on at length over the past several years: if the Sony A7R II is a little smaller with its extra batteries, that is a moderate plus. But the Batis lenses are also at least as small and light and outperform CaNikon in autofocus and optical quality.

But most compelling of all: the Sony A7R II autofocus for me has been deadly accurate (excepting specular highlights), whereas the Nikon D810 OVF is useless for accurate manual focusing, and Nikon autofocus has horrendous precision issues with fast primes, always has, and surely always will; it is inherently poor in precision and utilizes a separate optical path to boot (not the sensor itself), a fundamental implementation flaw for high-res digital. And phase-detect AF fails to account for aperture properly as well, that is, it “sees” something like f/5.6, a fatal flaw for lenses with focus shift. Canon has all these same phase-detect AF issues, though IMO it is generally superior to Nikon for fast primes. HIT RATE MATTERS.

And so it is game over for CaNikon for travel and out-and-about shooting without a tripod, at least for most situations (sports and other specialties excepted of course). And that’s ignoring in-body image stabilization (IBIS).

The foregoing should not be confused with field work on a tripod, where the working style is contemplative and not fast-paced. There, the Zeiss Otus and Milvus and other Zeiss primes rock (and yet can be used on Sony as well!). The announcement of a Sony uncompressed format may turn the tide in favor of the Sony A7R II over the Nikon D810 (if that is indeed the core issue with Sony file quality).

* To be clear: Ming and I hit it off on our first meeting. We are different in many ways and yet Ming feels to me like a kindred spirit; we operate on the same wavelengths. We were not idle at Zeiss. Sometimes, a small rock or two starts an avalanche.

Small and light for a price?

As I’ve expressed for myself over the years, Otus-grade (or better) lenses of f/2.8 or even f/3.5 speed that would be much smaller and lighter are highly desirable, but not found on the market. Ponder whether yours truly would travel all the way to Germany and fail to express such sentiments. As well, I am not known for timidity in expressing my views.

And yet there is that price thing. Saying one wants an Otus-grade f/2.8 or f/3.5 lens is hardly the same as saying that one is willing to pay prices a large fraction of Otus prices. Because even a 2-stops-slower lens would require expensive lens elements to deliver Otus+ quality in a compact form factor.

Of course such “slower speed but perfect lens” ideas are necessarily a business decision, especially given the zeitgeist of infatuation with f/1.2 or f/1.4. Video shooters and certain others have legitimate needs for fast lenses, but most of the clamor for fast lenses is ill-conceived because on a digital sensor, f/1.2 can be as slow as T/1.5 anyway: see Loss of Lens Brightness at Fast Apertures on a Digital Sensor. And consider the fact that on a 36/42/50 megapixel digital camera, depth of field at f/1.4 or f/2 is corneal-thin.

As a quick survey (and this should NOT be taken as a hint of anything): would readers out there pay US$4500 for a 28mm f/2.8 or 35mm f/2.8 (or similar) that performs as well and perhaps better than an Otus? Provided that it is substantially smaller than an Otus.

And no, I do NOT mean lenses like Leica M, which are grossly expensive but suffer from all sorts of design compromises like focus shift, field curvature and secondary color and flare problems, not to mention quality control issues. I mean near-perfect lenses devoid of such defects, lenses that set a true reference standard that will not be surpassed.

Peter H writes

You are preaching to the converted here! High quality, relatively small and light f2.8-f3.5 primes. This is what ALL landscape photographers desire...and I suspect there is a few of those around the world! (if Zeiss has any doubts about potential market/ROI).

Yes, I would happily pay 4K for such lenses, as long as they came in Sony mount to avoid any adapter related quality compromises (which would kind-of defeat the purpose of them anyway).

I think Ming summed it up best when he said 4K for a lens is a bargain if you never need to buy another lens in that focal length again. Amen.

DIGLLOYD: no, they should not be in Sony mount for one simple reason: they should be universal lenses usable on Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujfilm, Pentax, for long term universal value. Such lenses would need to include their own high quality adapters. A native E-mount lens would be usable only on Sony (flange focal distance would preclude others) and thus a very poor investment should Sony abandon the camera market, or fall behind in attractiveness. And Sony still has issues of many kinds!

A Nikon F-mount is as close to universal as it gets as it can work on Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, etc. A well designed adapter is not an issue optically (though some adapters out there can cause flare or have poor tolerances). For such stuff, I'd want lenses that would last forever. The Zeiss ZF.2 lenses, even if the electronic chip fails, continue to work just fine with the aperture ring, so this does not preclude an electronic aperture that fails gracefully to mechanical.

Chris L writes:

Lloyd, you nailed it (as usual):

I would be willing to pay 4k+ for such a compact, reasonably light, Otus-quality lens, IF, and only if, it were universally usable.

The qualification means that, if a lens maker would conceive a set of such high-quality lens-heads and dedicated, precise (possibly adjustable!) adapters for the major mounts, I'd be willing to trade most of my gear for that.

Adapter quality is crucial: I'm thinking of *at least* Novoflex standards. For the past 15 months, I've been using all my Zeiss ZF and Voigtländer F-Mount lenses on Sony E and FE bodies via Novoflex adapters (with the all-important ASTAT collar for long or heavy lenses), and I'm not looking back to current Nikon for a second. Not even for mounting the 135mm Apo Sonnar and the Voigtländer 180mm Apo Lanthar, two absolute gems that I found fickly to focus on a DSLR, but a piece of cake on an EVF.

Apart from handling, weight and bulk are essential considerations. I'm a number of years older than you are, and in far poorer shape. I'm no longer able to schlepp a Nikon full-frame plus a full complement of primes, let alone quality zoom behemoths. Nor would I be willing to. And tighter airline on-board luggage restrictions over here in Europe mean that one Sony A7xn plus 2-3 lenses (like the Batis 25mm/85mm combo, + maybe the tiny 1.8/55mm Sonnar) plus, possibly, an A6000 body for backup is all you can take comfortably aboard.

DIGLLOYD: I’d not want anything less than first class adapters and universal applicability (or nearly so), of course.

The size/weight thing seems to be a keen interest of many I’m hearing from.

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